The Insane World War I Telegram that inspired the Best Star Trek Story

Star Trek’s relationship with history has always been nebulous. Yet, the episode many fans consider one of the best Star Trek stories of all time was based on an actual historical event.

The Deep Space Nine story In the Pale Moonlight is a landmark in the Star Trek franchise. Notably, the dark story about the moral consequences of interstellar war is one of the few Trek tales rooted in actual history.

Strangely, for a war story In the Pale Moonlight is a simple drama that explores war’s effects on Captain Benjamin Sisko. There are no battle scenes and the action is minimal. The blood and thunder take place offscreen. Instead, the story emphasizes Avery Brooks’ subtle performance as space station commander Captain Benjamin Sisko.

Star Trek’s Finest Hour

In the story, the Federation and the Klingon Empire are fighting a bloody war of attrition against the totalitarian Dominion. Casualty lists are mounting as defeatism spreads. Meanwhile, Sisko sees intelligence reports that show Star Fleet and the Klingons lack the resources to win the war.

Sisko thinks the Federation’s only chance for victory is for the Romulan Empire to enter the war against the Dominion. Unfortunately, the opportunistic Romulans have a non-aggression pact with the Dominion.

On his own initiative, Sisko decides to bring the Romulans into the war. The Captain enlists Cardassian spy Garak to undertake a clumsy attempt at espionage. The two try to steal the Dominion’s plans for a sneak attack on the Romulan Empire. They hope the plans could convince a Romulan leader to enter the war.

When espionage fails, Garak proposes the two fabricate the invasion plans. To that end, Garak enlists the help of a violent criminal, and Sisko trades potentially dangerous materials with another criminal to get a Cardassian data rod. The Cardassians are members of the Dominion.

Once the data rod is ready, the Captain invites Romulan Senator Vreenak to Deep Space Nine. Vreenak comes, meets with Sisko and examines the data rod. Vreenak pronounces the data rod a fake and vows to expose Sisko’s duplicity to Star Fleet Command.

A disgusted Vreenak leaves the station. Dramatically, a bomb destroys the Senator’s shuttle and kills Vreenak. Romulan investigators discover the fake data rod and evidence linking the bomb to the Dominion. Consequently, the Romulan Senate declares war on the Dominion. The Romulans blame the Dominion for Vreenak’s death.

After the “good news.” Sisko confronts Garak, who admits to putting the bomb on Vreenak’s shuttle. Sisko realizes he is responsible for Vreenak’s death and indirectly for the deaths of all the Romulans who will die in the war.

However, Sisko keeps the truth secret and confesses it only as a personal record. The Captain keeps the truth secret because he believes only Romulan help can save the Federation.

Despite its simplicity, In the Pale Moonlight is one of the most popular and influential Star Trek episodes. Some reviewers regard the episode as the beginning of a dark turn in the Trek universe now emphasized in shows such as Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery.

In addition, In the Pale Moonlight usually tops the list of 10 best Star Trek episodes. That’s no small feat because there are over 800 episodes of several Star Trek shows in existence.

In the Pale Moonlight’s appeal comes from its moral complexity. Sisko’s and Garak’s acts are reprehensible, but their motivations are noble. They want to protect the Alpha Quadrant from tyranny.

The Zimmerman Telegram

The historical inspiration for In the Pale Moonlight was the Zimmermann Telegram. Some historians believe the Zimmermann Telegram changed history by encouraging the United States to enter World War I.

In January 1917, the Entente (an alliance of the British Empire, France, Belgium, Italy, and Russia) was losing World War I. Many British leaders, including Winston S. Churchill, then part of the War Cabinet, thought Britain would have to leave the war if America did not enter it.

To elaborate, Britain, Belgium, and France had no troops or resources left to continue the war because of horrific losses on the Western Front. Meanwhile, an exhausted Russian Empire was close to collapse.

British, Italian, and French leaders only stayed in the war because they feared the brutal demands the victorious Central Powers (Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) could make on them. In particular, the British and French leaders feared the Turks and Germans would demand many of their colonies in a peace treaty.

For example, the Turks could demand the return of Egypt and Libya to their empire and control of the Suez Canal- the Lifeline of the British Empire. Similarly, the Germans could demand British, French, and Belgian colonies in Africa and Asia as the price for peace.

The Entente’s only hope for victory was to get the United States to enter the war on their side. American entry into the war was improbable because voters had reelected President Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) in November 1916. Wilson ran on the slogan “he kept us of war.” There was no popular support for a European war in America, although Wilson himself wanted to enter the conflict.

How Germany’s Foreign Minister helped Britain win World War I

Then the British campaign to draw America into the war got an enormous boost from a bizarre source. The Kaiser’s Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann.

Zimmermann stupidly sent Germany’s minister to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt, a telegram. In the telegram, Zimmermann offered to give Mexico’s government US territory if Mexico would enter the war on Germany’s side.

The telegram was imbecilic because Mexico had no military power. In 1917, Mexico was in the middle of a Civil War and American troops were occupying parts of the country. The Mexicans were incapable of defeating the Americans or threatening US territory.

Moreover, the Imperial German Navy was incapable of crossing the North Sea and invading United Kingdom. Hence, the Germans had no way to send any military aid across the Atlantic and through the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico. Both the Royal Navy and the United States Navy could have easily intercepted any German troopship heading to Mexico. Finally, Zimmermann was encouraging Mexico to attack the United States, a neutral country, an action that would not help Germany’s war effort.

Despite its dumbness, the Zimmermann telegram had a catastrophic effect. The foreign minister did not realize British intelligence had tapped the telegraph lines and cracked the German codes. Thus, His Majesty’s Government had the telegram.

Predictably, British diplomats gave the Zimmermann Telegram to President Wilson and released it to the American press. The Telegram led to an enormous increase in anti-German sentiment in the United States.

Incredibly, Zimmermann himself made the situation worse by admitting to the telegram’s authenticity. Had Zimmermann lied and denounced the Telegram as a British forgery, he could have defused the situation. Instead, Zimmermann; who did not understand American public opinion inflamed the situation with his honesty.

The Zimmerman Telegram was not the immediate pretext for America’s entry into World War I. Instead, Germany’s declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare was. However, the Telegram made it easier for Wilson to enter the war and silence critics.

America’s entry into the war enabled the British, Belgians, Italians, and French to fight on despite Russia’s surrender after the Bolshevik Revolution. The presence of American troops on the Western Front in 1918 stopped Germany’s final offensive, leading to Entente or Allied victory in November 1918.

I think the Zimmermann Telegram was the inspiration for In the Pale Moonlight. The genuine history adds an interesting note of reality and relevance to the story’s murky morality.

I think the Zimmermann Telegram was the inspiration for In the Pale Moonlight. The genuine history adds an interesting note of reality and relevance to the story’s murky morality.